By Emily Gallagher
Times West Virginian
A program that has provided state law-enforcement agencies assistance in alerting the community to a missing adult or senior citizen is now being discussed on a national level.
On Tuesday, U.S. senators from across the country, including Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., introduced the National Silver Alert Act. This piece of legislation will create a nationwide network for locating missing adults and senior citizens.
A press release stated the National Silver Alert Act would create a federal program that is modeled after the AMBER Alert and provide federal coordination and assistance to local and state law-enforcement agencies. This national alert system will be similar to the Silver Alert system that was put in place in West Virginia in 2009.
“The Silver Alert was put in place in West Virginia when I was governor and has proven to be a positive and effective program since it started in 2009,” Manchin said.
Manchin added that West Virginia has been fortunate enough to have only needed the system a handful of times and has been successful with returning those individuals home safely.
Rockefeller stated in the press release that a strong communication network is critical to first-responders when an adult or senior citizen goes missing.
“The Silver Alert, which is modeled after a successful West Virginia program, has the potential to greatly improve the way we locate missing adults and seniors by allowing for coordination and support across jurisdictions,” he said.
Laurel Kirksey, executive director of Alzheimer's Association, West Virginia Chapter, said since the Silver Alert has been in place, it has helped with locating missing adults and senior citizens. She said six out of 10 adults with Alzheimer’s disease will wander.
“You want to give people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia their independence but also want to guarantee their safety,” Kirksey said. “Silver Alert legislation helps ensure coordinated efforts by law enforcement to put out immediate action on any adult with cognitive impairment who has wandered.”
With the Silver Alert, Kirksey said the program has impacted West Virginia in positive ways, including making the public more aware of a missing adult or senior citizen. Another is that law enforcement has become more knowledgeable about individuals with cognitive impairment.
“As the Alzheimer’s Association, we have done training with law-enforcement agencies and emergency responders,” Kirksey said. “So first-responders are equiped with how to approach these situations and find these individuals.”
Digital signs along the interstate and in cities have allowed Silver Alerts to be shown on them when an adult or senior citizens is missing.
“It really brings missing individuals to top of mind,” Kirksey said.
Having these signs can alert more people that there is a missing person. Kirksey said there have been several incidents where a missing individual is found by someone in the community or a neighbor.
“Often it’s community members that run across these individuals,” she said.
Email Emily Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.